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Wednesday, February 2, 2005
Irish not likely to have top-20 class

Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Lawrence Wilson has been watching New England's Super Bowl run with great interest, knowing he could be playing for Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis at Notre Dame next season.

The high school recruit is impressed. But not enough to commit to the Fighting Irish -- yet.

The Patriots' playoff success has kept Weis from working full-time as Notre Dame coach, and hasn't done much to lure star recruits to South Bend -- yet.

"Short term, it's not really helping, it's not really hurting," said recruiting analyst Bobby Burton of Rivals.com. "But I think long-term it will be a great thing."

Barring a bunch of last-minute commitments, it appears the only big win Weis can hope for this week is against the Philadelphia Eagles. For the second straight season, recruiting analysts say the Fighting Irish won't be among the top 20 schools in recruiting. Starting Wednesday, high school seniors can sign letters of intent with colleges.

"It's not a great class," said analyst Tom Lemming of ESPN.com.

Weis said Tuesday during Super Bowl media day in Jacksonvile, Fla., that he wasn't worried about rankings and analysis.

"I don't want to see numbers. I want players. I want my kind of players," he said. "If you're a showboating, me-guy, go somewhere else. If you and the coach have a conflict, guess who's going to win that one."

Weis hasn't done much face-to-face recruiting since he was hired Dec. 12.

Still, Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello believes the Patriots' success can only help the Irish.

"Maybe he hasn't been in as many homes as he will be next year, but he's been on the phone and very involved in our recruiting effort," Ianello said.

Ianello could not talk about specific recruits because of NCAA rules, but said only one high school senior ruled out Notre Dame because Weis couldn't make a home visit.

"We've had a lot of kids understand the circumstances, and they're excited that they might get the chance to play for a guy who has a chance to win his third Super Bowl in four years," he said.

Wilson, a defensive end from Akron, Ohio, is encouraged by New England's performance.

"You're watching them on TV all the time, and they keep winning. That proves how good a coach that coach Weis is," he said.

Wilson withdrew his commitment to Notre Dame after Tyrone Willingham was fired as coach on Nov. 30, but got a visit from Weis the week he was hired and then had seven Irish assistants stop at his home on a single visit last month. He is still considering the Irish, along with Ohio State and Florida. He plans to announce Wednesday.

The recruiting analysts say the less-than-stellar class comes from a combination of Willingham not already having top players lined up and Weis getting involved late.

Ianello concedes the new Irish staff had no chance of bringing in a top-notch recruiting class because Weis did not name his assistant coaches until Jan. 3.

"When you get in in the middle of a recruiting period, you have challenges," he said. "You don't have the relationships with the young man that some of the other schools that have been recruiting him the whole period."

Lemming said Notre Dame's class lacks blue-chippers. He said it's the first time in his 26 years rating recruiting classes that the Irish don't have a player in his top 100.

"There's not one guy I would consider a great player," he said.

It's been a persistent problem for the Irish in recent years. Notre Dame has produced seven Heisman Trophy winners -- more than any other school -- but none since 1987 and hasn't had a player finish in the top five in the voting since 1992.

Weis is confident he'll eventually land the players he wants.

"If they want to go somewhere else, you don't cry about it. You move on," he said. "If you can't sell Notre Dame and my track record, you just move on to the next one."

Lemming believes Weis' resume eventually will pay off.

"He's got kind of a Bill Parcells kind of aura about him that I think will do real well with the kids," Lemming said. "Because no matter what the kids say, the chance to get to the pros means more to most of them than an education does."